Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Fans of My Little Pony

While watching the first and second seasons of My Little Pony, I made a point of staying out of the fandom. All of it. I knew the story of the show gaining traction on /co/ before exploding in popularity, and I knew of Derpy Hooves and the reasons for her strange popularity, but that was it. I didn’t know one background pony from the next, I didn’t care for fan theories or headcanons, and I certainly didn’t want to look at clop pics – pornography featuring the cast of small horses.

Well, somewhere in the middle of the third season, that changed. Except for the clop part. I went looking for discussion about some teaser images, and for speculation about Scootaloo’s home life. And somewhere along the line, I fell into it. I went to Ponychan and learned which ponies were Lyra and BonBon, and how their constantly being placed together both fuelled and later was informed by the fandom liking them as a couple. I learned how Lyra sitting a certain way led to her being characterised as idolizing human beings. I found out the fandom took Derpy’s delivery job and made her a mailpony, how her being one pony who may have said ‘Muffins!’ led to her being obsessed with them, how she is often made a companion of ‘Doctor Whooves’, officially named Time Turner, and how a small filly who looks a little like her became her daughter, Dinky Hooves. I went to 4chan’s /mlp/ and found out about their fixation with tulpae, hypnosis, hatred for those who label themselves bronies and act like ‘autists’, and of course a whole lot of masturbatory imagery, with their hatred for Rainbow Dash balanced only by their desire to, ahem, cum inside her. I found out that the pony whose argument is stopped by Cadence is the OC of storyboard artist Sibsy, who has always made herself prominent, and heard the gossip about her and MandoPony, a mandolin-playing musician who has managed to get close to cast members and supports them in their music. I’ve found out about other Pony musicians – Alex S, The Living Tombstone, Eurobeat Brony, Mic the Microphone – and became familiar with their styles. I read the prominent Tumblrs – Jappleack, Molestia, Ask-TheCrusaders, Dan vs FiM, even Sweetiepoo. I found out about news site Equestria Daily and its founder Seth’s love for the minor antagonist Trixie, and how he should go to bed. I read the comics and their acknowledgement of many of these fandom elements, and laughed at how every little thing was called ‘fan pandering’ – people were even complaining that some rainbow waterfalls at the end of ‘Sleepless in Ponyville’ must have been a reference to the creepy song and later melodramatic fanfic ‘Rainbow Factory’.

I took a particular interest in the very early fandom, mostly annoyed by the fact that Know Your Meme tried to suggest that without some Cartoon Brew posts, 4chan would never have taken an interest in the new show, when there are numerous threads archived/screencapped that show conversation was already blooming markedly before that. I read older generations’ thoughts on Lauren Faust’s very first mention of the project, and laughed heartily at how one of the very first to have a very enthusiastic reaction was called ‘GoldenClopper’, a name that now means something entirely different.

In short, I become well-informed. Very well-informed. I still consider myself only as much of a fan as I am of various other series, and wouldn’t go to a convention specifically for ponies, and certainly wouldn’t call myself a brony (nor, dear anons, a Ponyfag or indeed a ‘clopnigger’, do excuse the slur), but I must admit I’ve spent a lot of time on this, now.

And so I came across ‘BronyCon: The Documentary’, later retitled as you see above. The project was initially a small-scale kickstarter, but somewhat predictably blew up with the money of notoriously enthusiastic and profligate Bronies and became a feature-length project very much in the vein of Trekkies. While that covered a phenomenon that has lasted a generation, now, though, this attempted the same with a fandom based on developments of just over two years, and a few dozen episodes. Nonetheless, thousands of people attend these conventions, and there are certainly stories to tell.

Again, much like Trekkies, the Bronies documentary follows a few individuals to three different conventions in different countries, interspersing their narratives with interviews with fans and creators alike (as well as some psychologists), with cast members giving something of a commentary throughout. There’s also the advantage of music created by the fandom for the fandom and some work from gifted animators, Ask-TheCrusaders in particular supplying show-style visuals to accompany an amusing half-spoken song written by Faust, new head writer Amy Keating-Rogers and Mic the Microphone that categorizes fans and even mentions clopping. 4chan unsurprisingly gets short shrift, but with all their wailing about spaghetti (it spilling from pockets is surreal shorthand for embarrassing behaviour), I’m sure they would have wanted it no other way, and much of the time what is left unsaid is more interesting – especially regarding Faust leaving the show. She is highly honoured here, with a rather lovely animation based on an anecdote about her childhood (I think made by the people attempting an impressive hand-drawn pony animation, though that’s largely a guess) and one of the climaxes of the piece being her being presented with a huge poster of her OC, based on the fanart of Celestia in the style of the Andre the Giant ‘OBEY’ image.

Otherwise, the stories are mostly predictable and easily understood. One teenager who looks young for his 16 years has a dad who doesn’t understand his offspring, but they end up going to BronyCon together and the father's eyes are opened. One British person with Asperger’s and an unfortunate hat (bizarrely preluded by an upside-down Union Jack) overcomes his social anxiety to blossom amongst his fellow bronies in one of the more cultish moments. The Living Tombstone, isolated in Israel, travels all the way to the States to meet his friends and has a triumphant first-ever live performance with his Skrillex soundbank thumping away. I may think it’s unfortunate the rather generic and plodding remix he did of ‘Discord’ (albeit with some fantastic drum sounds) eclipsed the rather more original and honest (but far more niche) original Eurobeat version, to the extent that Eurobeat Brony was just providing vocals for Tombstone’s mid-tempo rock, but there is something touching about these people who would otherwise go entirely unnoticed having a room full of adoring fans. Similarly, it is nice seeing Faust moved by the admiration she gets, and De Lancie clearly lapping up the attention with his gorgeous Discord figurine made by Russian bronies by his side.

The whole thing is clearly self-congratulatory. The major backers and contributors of this documentary are its subject, which isn’t exactly going to lead to a critical assessment. But to take it as anything but a celebration of a strange movement is to misunderstand: this is not supposed to help outsiders understand (it only tells them they should), and if used to inform will give only a shallow view. Rather, it is giving an audience what it wants – oh dear, have I reached the conclusion it is fan pandering? – because that’s what will make them feel good. I stand apart somewhat, and wouldn’t want it any other way, but I have to say I regard these people with affection. They may be awkward, annoying and even rather smug about their place in a mass movement, but so earnest is their enjoyment and revelry that it’s really very sweet. 


  1. I only recently started watching My Little Pony FIM last year. I had heard about it here and there online (it's hard to avoid it when you're also an anime fan =P) and lately there have been tons of My Little Pony events and cosplayers at the anime conventions I've gone to.  So I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. It took me a while to warm up to the characters and style, but once I got to the late season 1 episodes and early season 2 episodes (which is where I am in my watching now), I can say that I like it quite a bit =) But I wouldn't call myself a big fan and I don't do much beyond just watching the, I have no idea what you're talking about in this post's second paragraph XD While I do like the show, I still have trouble understanding what 15-30 year old men can get so obsessed about in it. But I might end up talking about it on my blog so I won't say much here =P

    Since I am curious why "bronies" like this show the way they do, I was thinking of checking out this documentary. I might also go to a My Little Pony panel or fan gathering at Anime Expo this year and learn first-hand what it's all about XD

    And since I didn't know you had watched/reviewed the first two seasons, I'll give your season 1 review a read now and the season 2 one once I finish watching it ;)

  2. I started it not long into season 1, but I've continually been surprised by the scale of the fandom and especially its influence on the show. 

    I don't think you'll find any answers as to why people like it the way they do, except possibly the psychologist's approach of it being as escapist as possible in paranoid times - generally you'll probably get asked back why you like anything they way you like it. Or more generalised positives like 'The writing is great' or 'The characters are really relatable.'